I recently acquired a new Chris King InSet 7 tapered headset for a new bike build. Like all King products, it is a beautiful piece of kit. Also important: I’m supporting a local business and jobs — Chris King engineers, manufactures and assembles their products here in Portland, Oregon. If hard pressed though, I’d confess the reason I bought it is we could pick it up the next day. It’s been years since I’ve utilized Chris King headsets on new bike builds.
There was a time when it was all I’d run;. At one time I was the e-commerce manager for a chain of bike shops in the Bay Area selling them constantly, and re-ordering regularly. That ended in 2008, when a bad experience with their early 1.5″ headsets began a chain of events that put me on the path from brand evangelist to disgruntled rider. On a standard run down flow-jump trail Livewire, the 1.5 to 1 1/8 reducer in the top assembly failed, ending my day of riding at the Northstar Bike Park. My day was over and during the four hour drive home, I had a lot of time reflect on how the headset design completely ruined my riding experience. The lousy day was followed by an equally poor customer service experience, souring me on the product and brand, leading to what I call the headset purge of 2009, when I began to systematically replace them with units from Cane Creek.
It wasn’t just the crappy excuses for a poorly designed product and horrible customer service though. My headsets often required adjustments after hard hits, where other units were trouble free. The reason: a dated one-piece bearing cap that relied on an o-ring for compression and to hold the adjustment. While the design was adequate for XC mountain biking and road cycling, it simply wasn’t capable of holding up under aggressive riding.
Since then, King introduced a new bearing cap that uses a split compression ring to center the steerer tube in the upper bearing assembly. It’s a far more secure interface than their previous design, which makes you wonder why they didn’t use it before, especially since a split compression ring is practically the industry standard. The answer is simple enough: Dia-Compe USA (now Cane Creek) held the patent on designs using a split compression ring. Peter Verdone of San Rafael explains it best in this post: The BEST Headset. If you’re interested in learning more about headsets, it’s worth a read.
Choosing the correct size to fit the 44mm headtube on my frame and fork with a tapered steerer was simple using the Fit Finder on the King website. It also helps to learn the Standard Headset Information System, AKA SHIS, (here’s a link to another good read at ParkTool.com) so you can choose the correct sku. Ideally you could go to your local shop and ask a knowledgable bike mechanic, as installing a headset should only be done by some with the proper know-how and tools. Preparing the frame by facing and chasing it is a good practice as well, though I rarely perform this step on my personal bikes.
This is a whole another cluster-f*ck, but the bike industry and the multitude of new standards makes it so local shops never have the part you need. Between headsets and bottom brackets, why go to a shop if they’re just going to have to order the part, when you can get it faster from the comfort of your home?
The Inset from Chris King will be my first King headset using a split compression ring, and I have high hopes. Like all King products, it’s beautifully executed. It also features their 10 year warranty on bearings. More importantly, the Griplock™ wedge system is available from King separately, and you can easily retrofit it to existing King headsets.
The Chris King InSet 7 lists for $169.99. Check out the Inset Headsets at ChrisKing.com or pick one up locally at Western Bikeworks.